Friday, October 24, 2014

What the Pumpkins Did

First, the pumpkins did this:
Then a little of this:
And some of this:

This is what was left:
And this is what was made:
The bread:
The curry soup:
I have to add that this was a creation by me. When I told my wife what I was making, she said, "That's fine, but you don't get to be mad at me if I don't like it." She loved it. She was surprised.

The toasted seeds:
I'd never had toasted pumpkin seeds before, so I was surprised at how good these are. I'll definitely be toasting all of my pumpkin seeds from now on.

All of that, and we still have more pumpkins to use. Pie is soon to come.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Exploring Personality: Part Six -- "I'm special!" (an IWM post)

"You are all individuals!"
"I'm not."
--If you don't know, you don't deserve to know

The Individualist

Have you ever wondered how

Edgar Allan Poe
Virginia Woolf
Tennessee Williams
J. D. Salinger
Anne Rice
Hank Williams
Judy Garland
Bob Dylan
Paul Simon
Angelina Jolie
Johnny Depp

may all be related? Sure, I could list more people, but if those haven't hooked you, no one else will. If you want to find out what they all have in common, follow the link over to Indie Writers Monthly to find out. It's just a finger twitch away. And there are songs!

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Cat Caught a Lizard, and Other Things

Oh... I can't resist mentioning the grammar in the title...
Can't... resist...

It's just that it's such a good example of using a comma for clarification of meaning, not for telling someone where to pause or take a breath. See, these two sentences mean different things:
"My cat caught a lizard and other things."
"My cat caught a lizard, and other things."
The first sentence means my cat caught other things along with the lizard, which, with my cat, could be almost anything. Actually, I think he caught a spider this morning, too.
The second means that my cat caught only a lizard and there are other things I'm going to talk about.
Commas. They're important.
And not for telling me how to breathe.

I've made no secret, even though I haven't mentioned it in a while, of my antipathy for Windows 8. It's like a book, a horrible-bad book, that your English professor wrote and then made you read as an assignment. But, not just read it, read it over and over again. And it never gets any better, just... you get used to it. But, then, he tells you that he's made it better. You know, major re-writes and edits and all of that, but people start reading it and they tell you it's pretty much just the same. Maybe worse. Definitely not better. You don't bother with the new one.

That's me and Windows 8.1. I haven't known a single person who has said to me, "Oh, yeah, you should definitely switch to 8.1. It's way better." No... Pretty much everyone has told me that it's pretty much the same. A few of said they liked it less. So my computer has been prompting me to "upgrade" to 8.1 for a while, now. Months. Every time it prompted me, I told it "no." Why bother for just more of the same. I am, at least, used to Win8.
I guess it got tired of asking.

The other night, it just up and told me, "Heya, I'm upgrading to Windows 8.1. I can do it right now, or I can do it tomorrow. When do you want that to happen?" What I wanted to tell it was "NO!" but it wouldn't let me. I tried... well, I tried all sorts of things and it wouldn't let me stop the "upgrade" even though my stuff in the "Should I upgrade?" section told me that I could opt out.

Then it told me I needed to backup all of my files, which was fine except that I couldn't. I backed up my document files, but I have all of my photos on the computer, and I didn't have anything to put them all on nor did I have time to do it by the time I realized there was no way to stop the 8.1 installation. Really, I wouldn't have had time to do it without at least a week of notice. I was pretty furious by that point. Sort of a walking rant.

When the computer finally prompted, "I'm going to install Win 8.1, right now," I thought I had beat it by simply turning the computer off... but I was wrong. An hour or so later, the prompt came up again. And I turned the computer off again. But, when I turned it back on, it said, "Screw you! I'm installing this sucker, right now!"

Have I mentioned that I hate computers? Yeah... Kind of like how I hate cars. They should just work. Period. And they should work in the way you want them to work.

Anyway...
I have Win8.1 now. Here's what's changed:

  • Everything is slower now. The computer takes longer to boot and pages take longer to load. You know, it's the heightened security or whatever.
  • I no longer have to sign out of Windows before I can turn my computer off. Seriously, why was that even a thing? So that's one positive thing, although I still have to go to the start screen to do that.
  • All of my files are now backed up to the "cloud." Because, as we have seen with the recent cloud hacking of celebrities "special" pictures, the cloud is more secure than having things just on my computer.
All of that and my cat caught a lizard. In the house. It was a western fence lizard
which I think are pretty cool because they're immune to Lyme disease. He was playing with it under the kitchen table, but I didn't pay any attention to him, because that's where he likes to play with pieces of cardboard he pulls off his scratching box or with the little strips off the Netflix envelopes. But he just kept going and going. Usually, he's only good for entertaining himself in that way for 5-10 minutes, but, once he crossed the 20 minute mark, I began to wonder what he was doing. At some point, I checked. He had a lizard. Amazingly, it was intact. Apparently, all he was doing was batting it around and throwing it in the air. However, it was still dead.
It was sad-making.

There was another thing, too, but I can't remember what it was. That's what comes of being interrupted as many times as I have. Always am. Probably, it wasn't important, and this is long enough anyway.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (season one thoughts)

I know that most of you are way past season one of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. at this point (meaning you're watching season two), those of you that are watching at all, at any rate; however, since we have to wait till shows are out on DVD, we're only just now finishing up season one. But, since the DVDs did just recently come out, I suppose this is actually a decent time for a review of the season.

Basically, last year, when the show debuted, I heard a lot of whining about it. Yeah, I'm just going to call it whining, because it all had to do with misplaced expectations. People expected The Avengers on TV, but that's not what they got. No, what they got was something more along the line of Whedon's Dollhouse, another show people didn't have patience for and piled on misplaced expectations (because they were hoping for another Firefly). I'm just gonna say, when you're dealing with Joss Whedon, it's never a good idea to come into anything with expectations. I'm sure that the actual reason that Firefly failed was because Whedon fans (who mostly rejected Firefly at first) were expecting something more along the lines of Buffy and Angel. So did Fox, by the way, and marketed it as such, because that's where Whedon's fan base was at the time.

So SHIELD comes in as a slow build, because it kind of has to. It has to introduce us to a whole new cast of characters, which was something Avengers didn't have to do because Marvel had already done that with all of the individual movies. It was slow, but it was solid. My kids loved it from the first episode, including my daughter who has been known to just get up and walk out of the room if something isn't exciting enough to hold her attention.

The biggest issue with SHIELD is that it's greatest strength -- Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson -- is also its biggest weakness. Gregg's Coulson is great as a side character, like he was in the movies. He's the unassuming guy on the fringes who occasionally delivers a very dry, witty line. But that Coulson is not the kind of character that can be the lead in a show. There's just not enough energy and charisma there. The only reason it worked at all is because, as the side character, we'd all come to love him from the movies and were suitably upset when he... well, you know. [I don't want to spoil it for anyone who may not have actually seen The Avengers, though I find that hard to imagine.] However, he's not the kind of guy we want to spend all of our time with. He's not commanding enough. I mean, it's fine to have Coulson along for the ride, but it's really Nick Fury or Captain America or Iron Man we want to be hanging out with.

The other real issue with the show is that Skye, the character who is supposed to be our "average Joe" window into the Marvel universe, isn't quite normal enough for us to connect with. Not in that way, at any rate. It doesn't take long to know that Skye really isn't a normal and, thus, our connection is lost, leaving Coulson as our only link, which would be okay if he wasn't the team leader.

Beyond that, though, the show is quite good. It has good dialogue and interesting characters. Even the characters who start out as those quintessential emotionless fighting machines turn out to have more to them than they seemed to at the beginning, but we have to work our way into them to find that out, as it should be. And, best for me, the show really doesn't have any one-offs. Even the episodes that seem to be one shots tie into the overall story. That it tied directly in with the events of Winter Soldier was also quite superb.

Other good things:
J. August Richards -- It's good to see him again, and I hope that the appearance of Deathlok heralds something more.
David Conrad -- I'd completely forgotten about him, but he's well cast as Ian Quinn.
(grudgingly) Bill Paxton -- I am not a fan of Paxton's, but he's done a great job as John Garrett. So good in fact... but that would be telling.
Saffron Burrows -- She did a great job making me not like her and hoping that Hand was... that would also be telling.

The final analysis is that we, all of us, really like the show. My kids love the show. I think it's great that they've centered the plot around the thing I was talking about in my Winter Soldier review, specifically the Nick Fury vs. SHIELD thing. I can't wait to see what's in store in season two... next year, after it's released on DVD.
>sigh<

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Exploring Personality: Part Five -- "I'm the best there is at what I do." (an IWM post)

"Recognition is the greatest motivator."

The Achiever


Last post (in this series) we were talking about those people that get involved in everything because they want to help. Now, we move on to those people that get involved in everything because they want to be in charge. Not that being in charge is goal; they just want to be as successful as possible, which usually ends with them being in charge. This is that person you knew in high school who was student council president... and president of the honor society... probably captain of the sportsball team... and, maybe, even captain of the debate team. All of that and a 4.0 GPA to boot. None of these things is because the person is more talented than other people or smarter than other people but because the person is more driven to succeed. The classic example of the overachiever.

Meet Type Three: the Achiever.

Oh, wait. You wanted to know about The Achiever? Well, you'll have to do that thing where you hop over to Indie Writers Monthly to find out about them. Threes... you either love them or hate them. Go find out why.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Woggle-Bug Book (a book review post)


The Woggle-Bug Book is not precisely part of the Oz books as it doesn't take place in Oz or really have anything to do with Oz other than the Woggle Bug. Actually, the book is adapted from the musical adaptation of the second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz. Well, loosely adapted. The Woggle Bug is a supporting character in Marvelous Land, but it sounds like much of the plot of the musical is related specifically to the Woggle Bug and his love for a dress, which is what the book is about except set in New York. Maybe. Some American city, at any rate.

So, yes, the book is about how the Woggle Bug falls in love with a dress. He sees it on a department store mannequin and is taken in by its colors, but he can't distinguish it from the person who is wearing it, so the whole plot revolves around him chasing after the various possessors of the dress. And smashing hats. The premise is, in all actuality, entirely amusing.

However, the execution is lacking, especially by today's standards, considering that the book is filled with racial caricatures. I'm sure those things were amusing in their time, but it was a time when Blackface was considered a high form of entertainment. Needless to say, by today's standards, the stereotypes are, at the least, insulting.

I don't really understand the need to set the book in the real world for any other reason than to include those characters. Baum still felt the need to have the Woggle Bug encounter a bunch of talking animals, so it seems to me the book would have worked just fine in Oz. Except that it was done as a child's picture book, not a novel, so, maybe, they thought the book would work better in a familiar setting. It was more than a century ago, so it's hard to say. It doesn't translate well to modern day, though, because of the racial issues.

However, that probably makes the book ripe for a modern interpretation because, as I said, the premise is really very funny and put the Woggle Bug's life in jeopardy on more than one occasion. I wouldn't suggest the original for more than die-hard Oz fans.

And, now, for something I've never done before: a review of the specific edition I purchased.
I picked up a free edition of The Woggle-Bug Book for my Kindle, and it was definitely an example of getting what you paid for. The person responsible for the adaptation did a piss poor job of it. For one thing, the original book had illustrations; evidently, those illustrations had captions. The captions were included in the narrative text of the book wherever they happened to fall, which was quite jarring. The book is in past tense, but the captions are in present, so you'd suddenly get this present tense summary of the current action of the book. Also, the book, especially toward the end, is full of typos. It was very apparent that not much time or attention was given to making the book presentable. I would certainly not recommend this edition of the book to anyone, even for the low, low price of FREE.

Friday, October 10, 2014

When Perfect Isn't Good Enough

It's probably an odd thing to say on a blog from a writer, a blog that often deals with writing, and from someone who teaches creative writing, but I was a math person when I was a kid. Technically, I suppose I still am, but I loved math when I was a kid. I did math for fun when I was a kid. Seriously. I loved math and I loved to read; I suppose that was an odd combination. People seem to think so, anyway. At any rate, I gave up on math a long time ago. It all started with geometry.

Don't get me wrong, I was good at geometry, excellent, actually, but I'll get to that in a moment. I was good at it; I just hated it. To be fair to Geometry, it wasn't Geometry's fault that I hated it. No, that honor goes to the teacher who made us memorize all the theorems and postulates by chapter notation. So, on a test, if we had to do a proof (and you always had to do proofs, because that's what geometry is), and we needed to use a particular theorem, we had to know it as, for instance, Theorem 16.2 and, then, quote the theorem. But the 16.2 part was completely arbitrary based on the book we were using, and it kind of pissed me off that we had to know that when it was completely not useful once we were out of the class.

Also, I hated doing problems that could potentially take up an entire sheet of paper.

But I was good at it. As in, I had the highest grade in the class good at it, and I didn't even pay attention. Reading was strictly forbidden during my geometry class. The teacher routinely had a stack of books she'd taken away from students for reading during class, but she let me read. I suppose when you have a student whose carrying 106% that it might be safer just to let him read. Did I mention that this was honors geometry? Yeah, it was.

There are two things you need to know:
1. Every test had a couple of bonus problems on it. [Yes, I always did the bonus problems. Not because I wanted the points, but because I couldn't make myself leave the problems blank.]
2. Along with the grade for the specific test, when we got the tests back, our overall grade was also on the test. Actually, it was our grade before the test and after the test so that we could see how the test had affected our grades.

I say every test had bonus problems, but there was one that didn't. I didn't think it was significant at the time. Not while I was taking the test, at any rate. However, I didn't feel that way about it when I got the test back. See, the 100% I'd made on the test had lowered my grade in the class. Yeah, you heard me; the perfect score lowered my grade. I sat there and stared at that for a while being kind of weirded out by it. Then, I did the math. You know, just to be sure I was seeing what I was seeing even though I knew that I was. Yes, the 100% lowered my grade.

There's just something inherently not right about that. It didn't matter from any kind of practical standpoint, but my sense of justice was... It wasn't happy with the situation. My teacher thought it was funny. And it is funny, but, as you can see, it made an impression on me. And it's a bit of a life lesson: There are times when you can do everything right, do a perfect job, and it will hurt your score. So to speak. You did all you could do, and it was all the right stuff to do, but it still has a negative impact.

I suppose the way to look at that is this:
Suppose you had done nothing. Or that you had done the wrong thing. The negative impact would have been so much greater. So it becomes all about doing the most you can to keep the negative results at a minimum. I guess, in some situations, that's the best you can hope for.

The thing that has me thinking about this is that my daughter is going through the same sort of thing right now in Spanish. She has something like 110% in the class (or 112% (something ridiculous, at any rate)) and, recently, she turned something in on which she only got 105%. Yes, it brought her grade down. She was very upset. There were a lot of "It's not fair!"s thrown around. I did explain it to her and told her my geometry story (which made her feel slightly better since it had happened to someone else), but it didn't really keep her from seething about it for a while. It just made her more determined to get her grade back up to where it was.

She has a good attitude about those things. I mean, she has the right attitude in how to deal with them. Instead of getting depressed or saying "what's the point," she's using it as motivation. That's how you respond to the inequities in life, let them inspire you to rise higher.